"She promised to
sleep with me on her


birthday."

 

"And when is that?"

 

"Tomorrow."

 

 

 

Young Love

 

 

 

    A post colonial village in Africa looks like nothing they show in the books. Now, we have a ragged shopping center sitting on the outskirts of the village, where cows and chickens roam freely on the concrete steps and chew on paper litter. The chickens wander in and out of the shops and mingle freely with the customers; I mean all the shops except one.

 

    They called it 'The Nakumatt Store' a sort of a mini version of the American multinational Wal-Mart Corporation. And no, The Nakumatt was not listed on the Fortune Global 500 list. But still, it
acted as a symbol of progress for the cool
teenagers who used it as a 'hangout
place' as opposed to
swimming in the river or hunting for rabbits in the forest. The Nakumatt was the bridge between the village and the city
life in an ever evolving
Africa.

 

    On Saturday, I woke up with a tinge of excitement because I knew that I was going to see Naputo. Who is Naputo? Well, she is only the most gorgeous girl in the village... and... pay attention here because this is important ... the girl that I will one day marry.

 

    I knew her Saturday route like the palm of my hand and so I hid myself in the trees and waited for her to leave her house. Hours later and bored to death, I saw her approaching and my heart begun an unsteady thumping.

 

    "Halo Munga," she greeted when she saw me.
"How are you doing today?"

 

    "I'm fine Naputo. Are you going to The Nakumatt?"

 

    "Yes," she replied with a smile. "Would you like to join me?"

 

    The words were music to my ears. "Yes. I would
love that very much."

 

    It was our every Saturday routine and she had known that I would be there patiently waiting by the trees. See, everybody in the village knew how close we were and many joked about our being hitched in the future. The more they talked, the more I believed that Naputo and I were destined to be together. The gods were smiling down on me; the stars were aligned in my favor.

 

    We strolled casually and chatted aimlessly as we approached The Nakumatt. And it didn't matter what the topic was because conversation was never awkward, and we enjoyed each others company immensely.

 

        "That boy is such a douche bag!" Naputo suddenly said as we walked by a group of boys standing outside the shopping center.

 

        "Who? Kimutu?" I asked as I scanned the faces.

 

        "Yes. He thinks he's hot and that girls should run towards him begging for love."

 

        I took a closer look at the boy she was talking about.
"I agree," I
said. "He can be arrogant and obnoxious sometimes."

 

        "Not sometimes," Naputo insisted. "All the time!"

 

        I was shocked by how angry Naputo was and I wondered whether something bad had happened.    

 

     "Come. Let's go this way," Naputo said as she led me in a different direction away from the group of boys.

 

 

 

    The grocery section inside The Nakumatt was tiny as opposed to the other departments. Folks in the village didn't need to buy groceries because they grew it: but they did need bread, cooking oil, salt and sugar amongst other
supplies. Naputo and I walked towards the freezers and grabbed two cone ice creams which I
paid for with the little money that I had. Call me whipped if
you want to, but I would do anything for Naputo. I would cross the seas to see that smile and the twinkle in her eyes.

 

    
We
jumped into one of the photo booths and took a funny photograph with her cheeks against mine,
both of us looking as happy as clowns. The man at the studio
gave me two copies and I loved them.

 

    "Do you want one copy?" I asked Naputo and shelaughed.

 

    "No. You keep them. I don't want to get in trouble with my parents."

 

   I pocketed both photographs and that night pinned one above my bed, where I could stare at it during my sleeping and waking moments. So this is what love felt like. I sighed. I had changed. My life had changed. The things I used to do, I didn't do them anymore. The places I used to visit, I didn't visit them any more. I just wanted to see and think about Naputo. As cliché as it may sound, Naputo completed me.

 

 

 

    "You don't have a girlfriend," the boys in my school said.

    "But I do," I replied confidently.

    "Prove it."

    I fished out the photograph from my pocket and showed it them.

    "Oh, my gosh!" they exclaimed. "She is so hot. Is she really your girlfriend?"

    "Yep," I replied feeling on top of the world.

 

 

    One Saturday afternoon, my mum burst into my bedroom and found me reading a novel.

    "What are you doing in bed Munga?" Her tone was accusing and when I said nothing, she
continued. "All the boys have been summoned in the arena. Kalonzo's sister was bitten by a snake!"

    I didn't wait to hear the rest. My feet hit the ground running and I dashed into the burning afternoon sun in time to see a group of fifteen boys heading towards the forest.

    "Grab a slasher!" the elder yelled and I quickly picked up the long l-shaped grass cutting tool.

    The forest was right next to the village and although it wasn't huge in size, it had very long grass. Slashers in hand, we stopped and formed a row at the entrance of the forest.

    "We will be here all day and night if we have to!" the elder yelled. "There will be no
more snake attacks in our village and it’s our responsibility as men to protect those whom we love!"

    We liked being called men and the elders knew this.

       

     The speech was however pointless because we were very well informed on our responsibilities
and we relished doing our part towards building a stronger village. The forest was dark as a canopy of tall trees cut off all the sunlight. A cold chill ran
through my skin as I stepped into the bushes. The grass was knee high and I hacked at it with the image of the little girl in my mind. I hated snakes but the idea of the slithering creature biting a little girl made me angry. I pushed my fear aside and hacked at the grass like it was a snake.

    Two hours later, we were deep in the forest, the grass behind us ankle high, our calloused hands swollen with blisters.

    "That should do it for today!" the elder called. "We will come back tomorrow for the rest."

    All the boys sighed in relief for we had mentally prepared ourselves to be there all day.

    I walked over and joined a group of boys leaning against tree trunks and it was only a little later that I realized that douche bag Kimutu was one of them. And he was talking too.

"I could use a nice massage right about now!" he said.

"Amen to that," another boy replied.

"What about that girl you were talking about?" Another boy added. "What was her name? Naputo?"

Kimutu smiled. "Naputo. Her name is Naputo.
She's coming over to my place tomorrow. It’s her birthday."

    I stared at Kimutu in disbelief although I could tell that he wasn't joking or lying. I also knew
that it was Naputo's birthday and I had planned to buy her something nice from The Nakumatt store. I studied Kimutu's face for a sign that it was a joke, but he seemed very content and complacent.

    The other boys started grinning and laughing. "Are you guys going to... you know what I mean...?"

   Kimutu grinned to his last tooth. "She promised me that tomorrow will be the big day. Said that she didn't want to turn eighteen as a virgin."

    By now, I was horror stricken by the conversation that was taking place. It was like I was there but I wasn't. I kept hoping that it was all a mistake and that they were talking about someone else but the reality stared at me with naked irony. How was it possible? How could Naputo do that to me ... to herself?"

    The boys didn't notice as I stepped into the bushes and walked away.

 

       The following day found me hiding on top of a tree staking out Kimutu's home, my fingers crossed, my heart drumming in anticipation. At exactly two in the afternoon, I gasped when I saw a lone figure approaching under the hot African
sun, and sure enough it was Naputo. My whole body went rigid and I refused to believe what I was seeing. She looked as beautiful as ever but I noticed the fear and hesitation on her face. My first instinct was to run to her and stop her from making the biggest mistake of her life. And then a door opened and Kimutu's head popped out like a rabbit in the bush. He looked left and then
right and then quickly ushered her into the house. I sat on the tree stunned into paralysis by the dramatic turn of events: my right fist balled up, my ego dwarfed, my face grim stricken.

    The night was long and I tossed and turned in pain. A part of me didn’t understand what had happened. What had I done wrong? How had I not
seen it coming?
The signs had been there... or had they?  ‘You can keep both copies of the photograph,’ she had said. ‘I don't want my parents to see them.’ 

    I got out of bed and paced my dark room. Had I been too nice? Had my moral expectations been too high? Had I been too desperate? Was it true
that girls were attracted to bad boys? 

It turned out to be the longest night of my life but one thing was for sure, I was not the man for Naputo. She had chosen another over me and all I was left with were the memories of the great times we had spent together.

The following day, every doubt that I had
harbored was laid to rest when I saw Naputo and Kimutu holding hands and laughing at The Nakumatt. I quickly turned and ran the other way before they could spot me. This became the trend for the rest of the week and I avoided Naputo at every cost. Her absence from my life plunged me into an endless abyss of sorrow but I could not bare the sight of her beauty and the harsh
reality that she belonged to another. My life was crumbling around me and the dust not only chocked but also blinded me. While the cool kids went to The Nakumatt, I went swimming in the river and rabbit hunting in the forest. I
became a loner.

 

    One afternoon my mum found me hacking at the grass in the forest, sweat dripping down my body like a stream.

   "How long have you been here?" she asked.

   "Not long," I said without stopping. I had been there for precisely four hours and my mum could tell by the way my hands trembled with fatigue.

     She walked over to a boulder and watched me with hawk eyes. I tried to ignore her hoping that she would go away but instead it was her concerned voice that drifted towards my ears.

   "Come and sit with me my child," she invited.

   "I can't mum," I said. "I have to cut the grass. I don't want snakes back in the village."

   "Munga!" She called in a stern voice, and I slowly placed the tool on the ground and
joined her. We sat in silence and the afternoon breeze felt good on my face. She took my hands into hers and quietly inspected the fresh blisters.

     "Mum?"

     "Yes son."

   "How is it possible ...that you can love someone so much ... and they in turn ... don't love you back?"

   My mum turned to look at me. "Son," she said. "The lessons of love are painful. Nothing I tell you can prepare you for the pain that you will feel
when your heart is broken. But remember this Munga, don't ever change who you are for someone else."

   Her words carried the weight of
wisdom.

 

        And so the days blurred into each other as I wallowed in a cocoon of misery. On a brighter side, our cow gave birth to a beautiful calf and it was a much needed distraction. The miracle of life I mean. I took a minute to wonder about life
and the self sustaining creatures that we are.

 

        A week later, Naputo found me at the river throwing stones into the water, my face an expression of grief, the birds flirting from tree to tree.

       "You promised to show me how to do that one day," she said as she popped out of
the bushes.

     Our eyes met, and a second turned into five, before I quickly looked away."

     "Well," I said with an impassive face. "Today is your chance."

     I showed her where to stand and what posture to take. "Try and throw the stone almost the same level as the water."

   She did as I instructed and her first throw turned out to be very impressive.

   "See, you are a quick learner."

    A thin smile crossed her lips and we lowered ourselves to the ground. The river raged and
twisted around the rocks, turning the water white.

    "The rains will come soon and the river will be flooded," I said as I tried to make small talk.

     She did not take the bait. "I hear that you are leaving for the city," she said.

     "Yes," I replied, the regret hidden in my voice. "I'm going to stay with my uncle for a while and learn his business."

   The air whispered around us, the trees groaned in the wind.

   "When are you coming back?" she asked as she tried to catch my eye. But she couldn't because I
looked away. I did not want to make eye contact because it would only worsen my internal bleeding.

    "I will try and come back for the holidays," I lied. I wasn't planning to come back in a long
time. There was nothing for me in the village but pain.

    "Are you going to stay in touch at least," she asked.

    "I will try," I said with indifference and then abruptly stood up. "I have to go now."

    She jumped to her feet but didn't say anything. I started walking away, the sun in my face, tears
in my lifeless eyes.

    "Munga?" she called with a tone that I couldn't ignore. Her voice was full of pain and I
knew without looking that she was crying. "I'm sorry Munga. I'm sorry."

   I stopped and turned to look at her and this time allowed myself to make eye contact. We were both crying.

    "Do you hate me?" she asked.

    "Noooo!" I replied in disbelief. "Why would you think that? Nooo! Don't you ever say that again."

    I rushed forward and wrapped her in my arms. She held me tight and we trembled in each other's arms.
"I love you Munga. I'm going to miss you a lot. You are my best friend in the whole world."

    "I love you too Naputo. Don't you ever forget that, don't you ever forget." My voice was barely
above a whisper. 

    We did not know it then, but our worlds were interwoven more than we could imagine, and the imaginary thread that connected our heart could not be broken by a 'moment'. For in the long stretch called life, that's all that it was... a moment... a dot on a rapidly receding past.

News

Off to AFRICA

 

My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen

 

Contact

 

mrobertto@yahoo.com

Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...